What will it take to stop this?
Twelve people were murdered in a mass shooting in Virginia last Friday afternoon. The Virginia Beach community is now going through a process the people in Connecticut know all too well — remembering the lost, struggling with incomprehensible grief, wondering if life will ever return to normal and asking, over and over, “Why?”
But for too many, this is normal now. The Virginia Beach shooting bears some resemblance to other workplace shootings, including the massacre at Hartford Distributors in Manchester, Conn., almost nine years ago, when a deranged and disgruntled Omar Thornton sought to take out all his frustrations on his coworkers.
The “why” question will echo — nobody will be able to satisfactorily pin down what motivates people to do this. But the “what” question can be answered: The shooter had easy access to deadly weapons. And that problem has a solution.
The Virginia Beach shooter is said to have purchased the weapons he used legally. Two .45-caliber handguns, one of which had a “suppressor” that quiets the weapon when fired, and several empty extended magazines were found at the scene.
Saying they were purchased legally doesn’t say much. Virginia’s gun laws are among the loosest in the nation, according to the Giffords Law Center, which gives it a grade of “D.” Even after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, when 32 people were killed, the state didn’t tighten up its gun laws as much as it could have. Handgun purchasers in Virginia must undergo a background check to insure they are not convicted or indicted felons and that they do not have restraining orders. There are few other restrictions. There is no waiting period. No license is required. The only restrictions on the purchase of assault weapons are age and citizenship. Machine guns must be registered with state police.
The looseness of the law might explain the Giffords Law Center finding that “in 2017, Virginia … supplied crime guns to other states at the 12th highest rate among the states. Virginia exported crime guns at nearly twice the national rate and nearly three times the rate at which it imported crime guns from other states.”
That underscores the need for legislation on the national level.
It’s plausible that the Virginia Beach shooter would have claimed fewer lives if he didn’t have access to those extended-capacity magazines. But engaging in an argument about hypotheticals is a distraction. The concrete question is simple: Would stricter gun safety laws erect reasonable barriers to keep military-spec weapons from getting into the hands of madmen without infringing on the Second Amendment rights of responsible gun owners?
Yes. They would. With better federal laws, there would be fewer deaths from firearms.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam made stronger gun laws part of his 2017 campaign, but efforts to pass legislation that would limit gun magazine size and give local governments broader authority to ban guns in city buildings couldn’t get any traction in Virginia’s legislature. In January, the legislature killed a bill that would have banned sales of large-capacity magazines such as the ones found in the Virginia Beach massacre.
But this is not a state-level problem. This is a national problem. As of Monday, 167 people have been killed in 156 mass shootings just this year. The number will continue to grow.
It’s time to continue the push for national legislation similar to Connecticut’s, which bans assault weapons and extended magazines, among other smart restrictions.
Given the number of guns already in circulation in the country, it’s unlikely that legislation will end gun violence. But we cannot let it continue unabated.
The nation needs to look in its mirror and acknowledge the facts staring back at us: If we do not enact better gun safety legislation at the federal level, we share the responsibility for what comes next.